Grand jury hands down 84 indictments

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 17, 2002

A Butler County grand jury convened on March 25 and 26, and following the presentation of 252 cases, 84 indictments or "true bills" were handed down.

According to Alabama law, when a felony crime is presented to the court, the case is handled by the district court until such time as a grand jury can hear the evidence in the case, and determine whether enough evidence exists to bind the case over for trial.

It is, in the meantime, the responsibility of the district court to see to it that defendants are either in custody or out on a bond, and that the court can maintain contact with them.

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Once a case goes to grand jury, one of several things can occur.

Not all cases that are sent to grand jury are criminal cases. Many times during certain investigations by law enforcement officials and coroners, cases of death investigations are sent to a grand jury for a final disposition.

This keeps the investigative branch of the judicial system from having to make determinations that could be affected by knowledge they gained during the investigation, and gives an impartial "body of the people" an opportunity to make that decision.

In some larger areas of the country, a process known as a Coroner's Inquest handles these matters.

If a case is deemed a "true bill," it then gets transferred from the district court of jurisdiction to the circuit court, where the defendants in the case must again appear in court, and have the charges of the indictment read to them formally. Attorneys are either secured by the defendant or appointed by the court, and trial dates are set, at which time a jury of one's peers hears the case in trial.

Another option of the grand jury is to deem a case "no billed," at which time it is dismissed from court.

Cases also can be recommended back to district court under lesser charges.

During the time before trial, many defendants, under the advice and negotiation of their attorneys, will opt to enter a plea agreement process. This is when, because the grand jury has determined enough evidence exists to send a case to trial, the defendant can waive a trial by jury, and many times receive a lesser sentence for the crime he or she is accused of.

This process must be monitored by the district attorney's office, which represents the people, and the victim, the defense attorney, and the circuit court judge.

Of the 84 indictments returned by the grand jury, two were for charges of murder.

Joseph Edward Nichols was indicted for charges of murder, and kidnapping, second degree,

in a case that occurred last fall in the south end of Butler County.

Another indictment for murder was presented against Tracy Lamar Powell, who is charged in a case that occurred in Butler County at the Maxx Club last fall, resulting in the death of Lorenzo Crenshaw.

Among the list of indictments were 14 cases of unlawful possession of marijuana, first degree, seven cases of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, 11 cases of unlawful possession of a forged instrument, second degree, eight cases of theft of property, first degree, five cases each of assault first and second degree, three cases of robbery second degree, one case of robbery first degree, and five cases of burglary were indicted.

Trials are set to begin as early as the beginning of May.